A public forum will be scheduled soon to discuss cleaning up the West Tisbury Mill Pond, allowing residents to participate in a 60-year ritual that has never provided a lasting solution despite some thoughtful, creative and occasionally bizarre proposals.
Mill Pond aesthetics have engendered great passion for three generations since the property was gifted to the town from Donald R. Campbell. Two schools of thought dominate. There are those who consider the pond a priceless jewel and those who consider it a jewel but at what price?
Selectmen will set a date next Wednesday for the forum. The pond has been a central agenda item at recent selectmen’s meetings and a nonresident taxpayer public forum.
Bottom dredging, hand weeding, chemical application and importation of swans are solutions that worked temporarily over six decades. Free mud for the taking (billed as high quality alluvial topsoil), and even a plan to stock the pond with goldfish have been proposed.
Several salient points have emerged from the public discourse.
First, as selectman Dianne E. Powers remarked after a meeting, “Mill Pond is a manmade pond and is doing what manmade ponds naturally do, fill themselves in.” The pond historically experiences bottom buildup plus growth of freshwater grasses and surface algae over time, despite best efforts to keep these things at bay.
Next, the days are long gone when passing the hat around town in 1948 funded Manuel Silva’s effort to chain drag the pond. Now the town must deal with several layers of state and conservation environmental rules and regulations. Mr. Silva completed the project for less than $1,000 in 1948. Estimates today begin in the neighborhood of $50,000.
Finally, financing the project from town coffers may be difficult, given budget constraints. At the selectmen’s meeting this week, the town finance committee offered an early warning signal about spending with town meeting warrant preparation in mind. Finance committee numbers show that 86 per cent of the town budget is spoken for, including education (60 per cent), personnel (20 per cent) and debt service (six per cent), leaving 14 per cent or $1.8 million in discretionary annual spending.
But selectman Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter said something must be done. “We have got to present an article on the town warrant this year with regard to the Mill Pond that can be used to bring some sort of direction,” he said. His declaration followed 30 minutes of public comment for and against Mill Pond cleanup. While some residents fear the tax impact on a budget that has risen 42 per cent since 2003, according to the finance committee, others said the town must do what is necessary to preserve the health of the pond that graces the bucolic entrance to West Tisbury. “The Mill Pond helps define who we are to visitors as well. It doesn’t have just sentimental value and I hope we are past the point of deferred maintenance although it sounds that way to me,” said one supporter of the cleanup.
Ms. Powers said in the end it may be necessary to form a friends of the Mill Pond organization. One resident replied: “As a property owner I am willing to participate, but only after I see that the selectmen have a workable plan with a strong financial package behind it.”
Selectman and board chairman Glenn Hearn said he believes the pond qualifies for funding under the Community Preservation Act. The town has more than $800,000 in its community preservation fund, according to a report issued earlier this year, although much of the money has been earmarked to go toward the upcoming town hall renovation project.